Agency Pricing—Still All Over the Place, and in Print Books Too!

agency.jpegI realize it's early days yet, but I have to admit, the new 'agency' system is shaping up so far to be an epic disaster. If it really did serve to bring some order, some consistency and some fairness to the growing ebook business, I might not have minded the higher prices if they really had rolled them out as they had claimed. If every store had the same consistent price, and if it was pro-rated on some kind of schedule where older books went down over time in a predictable system, I think customers would be a lot more accepting of paying a premium for the hot new releases. But how am I supposed to feel when a book that's been sitting at $18.50 on my Kobo wishlist is spotted at the local bricks-and-mortar in a shiny new $11 paperback, and the ebook---days after the agency changeover---is still at $18.50?


Here is another one. Bought an ebook, pre-agency, of Anne-Marie MacDonald’s debut novel, ‘Fall on Your Knees.’ I loved this book in paper, but it’s absolutely massive and I needed the shelf space. Yesterday I did a little search for her second book, ‘The Way the Crow Flies’, just to see if it was out too. And here is what I found:

– Fictionwise: Not listed
– Sony: Not listed, but they had book #1 for $13.99
– Kobo: $13.39 ‘discount’ on a list price of $23

– Amazon ebook: $10.99 “this price was set by the publisher”
– Amazon.com cheapest print version: $11.66 paperback
– Amazon.ca cheapest print version: $16.79 paperback

What happened to ‘same ebook price everywhere because it’s set by the publisher?’ If they really are setting their own prices, shouldn’t Kobo be able to match the lower Amazon price? And why is Kobo basing their ebook ‘discount’ on a list price that’s double what lowest-priced paper copy is going for? How is this fair, consistent, and reasonable to anybody?

Just for fun, I had my esteemed—and American—editor Paul Biba do a quick check for me to see if the higher price at Kobo could be accounted for by everything costing $2 more here the the Great eBook North. He got the same prices as I did at Amazon, but they didn’t offer him a Kobo version at all.

If there is one thing this whole agency debacle has taught me, it’s this: I am a good customer. I am a devoted enough to book reading that I shelled out $300 just for a device to read them on. I am potentially their cash cow. But I have my limit, and it’s about $12—$10 preferably, but I’ll give them a cushion for the Canada tax. More than that, and I am wishlisting. If it comes out at the library or I can borrow it from a friend before they get around to changing the price, it’s their loss. My days of ebook impulse buying are done.

21 Comments on Agency Pricing—Still All Over the Place, and in Print Books Too!

  1. Julius Adams // April 5, 2010 at 12:01 pm //

    This is just sad! After all these years being loyal to EReader and Fictionwise, AND to the publishers as a result, I can’t download a whole host of books I ALREADY PAID FOR (to the tune of around $300)? I can’t download them to my PC fopr backup, not can I read them anymore on my iPhone. Paid for and gone! ROBBERY!

    Publishers will win I guess, as I am inclined towards going back to paperbacks or FREE audio books from my library! When I see the paperbacks anywhere from 2 to 5 …Yes FIVE… dollars LESS than the Ebook I wonder what the motive really is?

    I give up, as I have been burned several times on EBook purchases over the years as retailers came and went (INCLUDING Barnes & Noble … lost all my .lit books, just vanished!… and enough is enough. The library options are looking better and better for books I will read (or listen to) just once anyway. At least I can bring them back if I don’t like them!

    This industry needs to grow up. I know it’s tougher for them as less people read like they used to (thanks to our wonderful education system I guess), but is this any way to treat loyal customers?

  2. Bruce Wilson // April 5, 2010 at 1:46 pm //

    Now that publishers are in control, we need some sort of a guarantee from them that when they stop doing business with a retailer, or when they shut down a content server, they send us a paper copy.

    That, or just admit they are leasing the book to us, and price it accordingly.

  3. Julius/Bruce: I don’t understand what the problem is with not being able to re-download.

    They sold you the e-book, and you got the e-book. It’s yours to keep and to read for as long as you want, but you do have to take care of it. If you don’t make backups and/or take other measures to keep your e-books safe, that’s not the dealer’s problem.

  4. Julius Adams // April 5, 2010 at 2:33 pm //

    I agree probably should have backed up the books. But there is also a trust factor, and a warning would have been nice. Just a rush job here, and the fate of those books is unknown.

  5. Doug, the problem is with devices like the iPhone where there is no way to side-load. I have backups of all my books on my Macbook, but when I have to work through the eReader app to get them onto my iPod Touch. You can’t load files directly on there. I had about 20 books I tried to load onto it last night to no avail. It seems a bit unfair of them to market the app as the only way to get books on your device, and then not let you load the books. I can understand contract rules changing for new purchasers, but for customers who already bought it, I think they really need to honour the contract which was in place when you bought it.

  6. borax99 (AlainC.) // April 5, 2010 at 5:01 pm //

    I’m a huge ebook buyer, and I’m so steamed at ereader.com over their poor handling of the matter that I’ve declared a FIVE-MONTH MORATORIUM on any further ebook purchases from them. (Oh, and I let them know, not that I’ve had a response yet)

    ereader’s sins:

    1. No notice on their home page advising of the changes
    2. Unilateral removal of over half my wish list titles, instead of leaving them in there, with links pointing to a “this book is currently unavailable due to the publisher’s whims” page

    If they haven’t improved by the time I log back on to actually shop (around Labour Day), they will have lost nearly all of my business. For good.

  7. Julius Adams // April 5, 2010 at 6:14 pm //

    To Borax: GO FOR IT! Poorly handled is tight. Since B&N took over they seem not to care. Sad, but another nail in the EBook coffin.

  8. Barnes and Noble owns Fictionwise, right? Then why are there books available from the Agency 5 on Barnes and Noble but not on Fictionwise? Doesn’t make sense to me.

    And I have the same issue as others with my iPhone. No ability to side-load. Which is why I stopped backing up my library of DRM’d books.

    Baen is looking better and better right now.

  9. @Juli Monroe:

    B&N does own Fictionwise, which in turn operates eReader.com. But apparently it’s a very hands-off ownership. Neither Fictionwise nor eReader.com acknowledges that their e-books work just fine on the B&N nook e-reader. They don’t even mention the nook at all.

    Fictionwise has its own e-book supplier contracts. Last year they lost OverDrive Content Reserve as a supplier, so I suspect that their main supplier for the ‘Agency 5’ is Ingram CoreSource. BooksOnBoard uses both OverDrive and Ingram, and has been saying that they hope to be back with ‘Agency 5’ e-books tomorrow, April 6. So maybe Fictionwise and eReader will be getting e-book feeds from Ingram again tomorrow, too.

    (In my opinion, eReader.com is toast. With B&N changing over to EPUB, and Fictionwise offering Adobe EPUB as an option, the eReader (PML PDB) format is in its death throes. Fictionwise should just absorb eReader.com.)

  10. Joanna,
    The differences are probably in the date the traditional agreements end.

    Macmillan was due for a new contract as of 3/31 or so.

    Then there’s Steve Jobs insisting that his store prices from Big 5 can’t be undercut because he also got those rather pathetic publishers to agree to ensure that the other storeowner agreements would be Apple Agency style and pricing. He took away competitive modes of operating that had been based on long exprience with selling books, including in a bad economy.

    Being realistic, he also inserted later language that would allow iBookstore to sell “hottest” books at $9.99 if he wanted. The publishers bowed and so we see some $10 pricing anyway.

    As I mentioned no one will be allowed to undercut him (when noticed), but if they were lazy enough to leave higher pricing on, he has nothing against that.

    In the meantime there is so much to read that we don’t have to pay a lot of money for, in the meantime, take heart. The library may seem welcome after all this mindless drama.

    The market will speak. Profits will be higher for the bookstores WHEN a book sells (ironically lower for publishers) but my money is heavily on the side that they will notice a decrease in overall revenues that does not correspond with an increase in hardcover sales or whatever else they are hoping for.

  11. I notice you forgot to say the ‘Apple agency model’ in this article. We need to continue to remind people that this ENTIRE mess was a direct result of Apple’s meddling.

    Apple did what was best for Apple, and has caused huge problems for consumers, including higher prices for all.

    Thanks Apple!

  12. (irony mode on) I just checked and it seems that the P2P and IRC networks didn’t receive any memos about prices being set by the publisher or books no longer being available… (irony mode off)

  13. You know you can upload any e-book into eReader’s personal web directory and then download it from there with the eReader client, right?

    You can’t really blame eReader for this, though. They’re restricted in how they can sync by Apple. Maybe OS 4.0 will contain the shared-document sandbox the iPad is getting and they can do more.

  14. Julius Adams // April 6, 2010 at 8:39 am //

    I know about loading ebooks into EReader’s personal content directory, BUT why should one have to go through that? Can use Stanza for all that and have it speak from the PC to the iPhone in the same way for any book. But that menas buying from one place, then downlaoding and uploading to another place etc. etc. which defeats the purpose of all this. Ridiculous what has gone on, esepcially for those who bought tose expensive readers. Still does not address the $300 in books I lost access to! Don’t blame me for not backing ALL my books up, because for years I have had access to them without any problem and relied on the fact that there would at least be a warming to get them backed up before this all fell. NOTHING! Bad business, and they lost my business! Back to the libraries and audio book downloads from them for free, or AUDIBLE where I can get books at $9 each with a one year plan! And they publishers won’t touch that market it seems because it is necessary for other reasons. Hmmmmm.

  15. @Doug Thanks for the explanation on B&N and Fictionwise. I hope you’re wrong about the eReader format dying (at least for a few more years). I can’t read DRM ePubs on my iPhone, and that’s where I do all my reading (in Stanza).

    And no, I didn’t know about the eReader personal content directory. Link to explanation, please?

  16. When I sent Fictionwise an email last night complaining that I couldn’t access some ebooks, they replied:

    We are currently working with our providers to resolve the download errors you are experiencing.

    Sorry for any inconvenience this may be causing and thank you for your patience as we attempt to resolve this issue.

  17. borax99 (AlainC.) // April 6, 2010 at 10:38 am //

    Bruce, be thankful you got *some sort* of an answer. Still haven’t heard back after the note I input on the ereader.com support site last Thursday (April 01).

    Sheesh !

  18. Julius Adams // April 6, 2010 at 12:18 pm //

    I called Fictionwise today and spoke with Scott Pendergrast,one of the founders (we’ve talked before). He stated the books WILL be back, but it seems that Ingram and Mobipocket, their two suppliers, were not ready for the change over. So he assures me that we will get access to previously purchased ebooks. We’ll see, but I believe him, he’s always been upfront…thank goodness at least he is!

  19. Huh, that’s interesting. When I tried to get to speak to Steve (via email) Steve told me I had to go through Barnes & Noble’s public relations department, who more or less shut me down. Maybe I should try calling Fictionwise, too.

  20. I’m just a customer…and I don’t understand all this contract publisher stuff….I’m just annoyed that I can’t download some of the books that I already purchased! Time to go back to the bookstore…

  21. Regarding backing stuff up for reading on the iPhone/iPod, I buy ePub and read it on iPod via Stanza. The desktop end is Calibre, which is free and works beautifully both with Stanza for iPhone and also with Sony Library for my Sony Reader. Therefore, I have the ebook files on the desktop hard drive in the Calibre Library, and usually in a couple of other places as well.

    And it also means I don’t have to fiddle around with unlocking ereader files with the correct name and credit card details.

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